Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Yejide and Akin have a happy marriage for the most part; they fell in love while at university, they continue to remain in love. But there is a child-sized hole in their lives, and to fill it up with a living, breathing child, Yejide will do everything. New medicine and old, ancient knowledge and feminine wisdom, nothing is dismissed. She even breast-feeds a goat atop a Mountain of Jaw Dropping Miracles. But there are things she doesn’t know, which she will be told later, and which will drive her to leave everything behind.
The story is written from the points of view of husband and wife, and in these alternating viewpoints, much is revealed to us. We see the confidence and pride men seem to possess simply for being men; it gives them the impunity to do almost anything. Akin decides for others, he deceives and lies. Yejide too is willing to look away from painfully obvious truths in her life, in her desperation to become a mother.
This is a stunning novel that speaks of many themes we can all relate to: the status of a childless woman, the struggle between tradition and modernity, the peculiar and particular expectations placed on women in a patriarchy, losing all sense of individuality in a society that emphasizes collective thought. The lives of the protagonists unravel in the midst of political turbulence in Nigeria, but the chaos outside their homes does not concern them as much as the war being waged within.
There is a certain acquiescence we observe in the characters: even if they do not fully agree with the customs and rituals that envelop them, they do not break away from the system. They compromise and they submit, and in doing so, they perpetuate the myths and superstitions of their ancestors. The author captures this in-betweenness in her prose; she neither denounces nor celebrates.
However, I am not convinced that the voices of Yejide and Akin were differentiated enough in the novel. When Akin is the narrator, personal pronouns are frequently missing in the text; I am not sure why this alone is a marker. I wonder if this story would have worked as well for me if I had asked why Yejide was so naive, why a college-educated woman running her own hairdressing saloon should behave this way. Then I answer my half-formed questions. Maybe. After almost three hundred pages, the characters continue to confuse me.
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